diamond geezer

 Saturday, July 14, 2018

À PARIS: le Musée Rodin

Although the Louvre is the Paris art museum everybody knows, there are dozens more, including several devoted to a single artist. Monet has one, and Dali, and particularly Picasso. But the most enchanting is probably that devoted to the sculptor Auguste Rodin, established 99 years ago in an hôtel the artist once used as his workshop. The main building's a delight, its gardens are extensive, and of course the sculptures therein are astonishing. Head over towards Invalides, in the VIIe, to make your acquaintance.

The Musée Rodin is self-supporting, which is rare in Paris, so it's impressive its admission fee has been kept down to €10. London may have many more free museums, but where they cost, our price points are generally pitched higher. Once you've paid your euros you're at liberty to wander round either the gardens or the museum. I suspect most visitors gravitate straight away towards one of Rodin's most famous statues, Le Penseur, sitting hand on chin atop a pedestal surrounded by torpedo-shaped topiary.

I also suspect most visitors suspect they're seeing "the real thing", whereas in fact this is one of 28 casts of The Thinker now displayed worldwide, indeed I think the first I ever recognised was in San Francisco. Rodin originally intended this image, at smaller scale, to form the centrepiece of his monumental gateway The Gates of Hell. And this you can find on the other side of the courtyard, a breathtaking bronze commission inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy, which consumed much of Rodin's life. Innumerable twisted figures protrude from the inky blackness, writhing and contorted, as if a nightmare is erupting... but only if you step up close.

The hôtel is arrayed on two floors around a grand central staircase, with many a chandelier and antique mirror to add to the general ambience of Belle Époque. Rodin's works are laid out first chronologically and then thematically, from small maquettes to the full-size real thing. I was particularly taken by how good he was at faces, given how hard they are to paint, let alone sculpt, and the humanity of even his caricatures shines through. He really got to grips with emotion and expression too, as exemplified by the sheer naked fury in The Call To Arms, or the tight embrace of another famous work, The Kiss.

There's a bit of variety, as one room features works by Monet and Van Gogh from Rodin's personal collection, and another showcases the sculptures of his mistress Camille Claudel. But mostly it's Rodin all the way, and all the better for it, as you shuffle reverently through to the exit. The cafe in the gardens is fairly reasonably priced, if you want to loiter after orienteering your way round the collection of outdoor pieces. Or if you don't have time for any of this, enjoy a taster on the platforms at the nearby Metro station, Varenne, where a hulking Balzac looms between the electronic gates, and another replica Thinker muses on the local superstar.

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